A house of prayer, praise, and invitation

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When you examine the local church you attend, do you consider your church to be “a house of prayer for all nations?” Do your members enthusiastically welcome the lost who are seeking Christ? Does your church unreservedly worship and sing praises to the Lord Jesus? Honest answers to these questions should include a perspective from those outside the church walls.

What is the reputation of your church in the surrounding community?

How does your church look in the eyes of the Lord Jesus?

Let’s study a passage from Matthew, and take away lessons from this account to apply in our local churches.

“Jesus entered the temple area and drove out all who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves. ‘It is written,’ he said to them, ‘My house will be called a house of prayer, but you are making it a ‘den of robbers’” (Matt. 21:12-13).

There were two different occasions when Jesus turned over the money changer tables inside the temple. This was the second time, and it happened in conjunction with His “triumphal entry” into Jerusalem on the day that is now known as “Palm Sunday.”

Jesus had ridden from Bethphage to Jerusalem on the foal of a donkey as crowds ahead of Him shouted, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord” (Matt 21:9). Then, upon arriving at the temple, Jesus rightfully became angered by the misuse and abuse of the money changers in the temple courts who were taking advantage of those coming to the temple to offer sacrifices to the Lord God.

This was an outrage. The vendors in the courts – who were allowed there by temple authorities – had become obstacles, even suppressors, for the peoples’ worship of the Lord.

The practice of selling sacrificial animals for temple sacrifice wasn’t inherently wrong. But these vendors had engaged in intentionally taking advantage of those entering the temple courts. They were, in actuality, stealing from the guests arriving at the entrance to the temple. And the people knew it. But, because it was at the temple, they were helpless to do anything about it.

That fostered hostility among the temple goers. It produced an environment where the peoples’ hearts were unprepared for worship because, even before they entered the temple courts, they expected vendors to try to take advantage of them.

For them, the temple courts had become an area of resentment and reservation. Instead of entering “his gates with thanksgiving, and his courts with praise” (Ps. 100:4), many would’ve entered with bitterness in their hearts. They found themselves going into the temple out of duty and responsibility, rather than entering with anticipation and expecting a time of rejuvenation.

For many, worship became ritual rather than real.

Are our church doors and foyers an area where our guests are greeted with enthusiasm? Do we present an atmosphere of anticipation for the upcoming worship experience? Do the members radiate a very real presence of the Holy Spirit so that guests know our church has something (or knows someone) that they want to experience for themselves?

Or, do we put up obstacles, visible or invisible, to their feeling welcomed? Not that we take advantage of the guests, but we might well unknowingly present an atmosphere of ritualistic church services, rather than a place where a guest can experience the presence of the Lord, and the joy of knowing and worshiping our God as their Savior.

This account of Jesus entering the temple and turning over the tables of the money changers is fairly well known. But, what isn’t so well known is what happened next. Immediately after Jesus cleared the temple:

“The blind and the lame came to him at the temple, and he healed them. But when the chief priests and the teachers of the law saw the wonderful things he did and the children shouting in the temple area, ‘Hosanna to the Son of David,’ they were indignant.
“Do you hear what these children are saying?” they asked him.
“Yes,” replied Jesus, “have you never read, “From the lips of children and infants you have ordained praise’”? (Matt. 21:14-16).

Jesus was inside the temple when the blind and lame approached him to be healed. That was a big deal!

We don’t know definitively. But the blind and lame seem to have been restricted from the temple, forced to stay outside the temple gates because of their infirmities. That was never instructed in Scripture. There is no Scripture where the blind or lame were to be excluded from temple worship. The only exclusion for the lame or blind was from serving as an alter priest in the Holy Place.

If the blind and lame were banned from the temple, it came about through either intentional tradition and/or misreading of Scripture (i.e. 2 Sam. 5:8, Lev. 21:16-23).

But Jesus didn’t exclude the lame or blind from the temple. We know that He had at least gone into the court of the Gentiles before He healed them. Did these people who were exiled from being in the temple follow Jesus into the temple? Perhaps.

They sensed what Jesus claimed about himself, “I tell you that one greater than the temple is here” (Matt. 12:6).

How can we make applications to our local church?

Churches aren’t generally guilty of restricting the blind or crippled. But Scripture does sometimes figuratively use terms of “blind,” “deaf,” or “lame” to represent the lost in this world; that is, those who don’t know Jesus as their personal Lord and Savior. And we can be guilty of erecting obstacles that hinder the lost who are seeking Jesus.

Is our church a place where those who don’t know Jesus can experience a welcoming invitation to Jesus for salvation, without having church members institute unscriptural regulations or traditional obstructions as they seek Jesus? Are we a church that is purposefully welcoming to the lost; regardless of where they come from, the color of their skin, their status in society, their clothing, hair styles, tattoos, hygiene, etc.? Or, do we unintentionally shy away?

Rather than becoming obstacles in the way of the Lord, the “children” in the temple ought to be a receptive people who are shouting praises to Lord, who facilitate a house of prayer for all nations, and who speak of God’s invitation for salvation.

Who are the children in the church? Those who have been saved by the blood of the Lord Jesus Christ. “How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! (1 John 3:1).

Our churches should be places where the children of God foster an atmosphere of prayer and praise, where the lost who are seeking the Lord are openly welcomed to hear the gospel of Christ and experience His life-giving salvation and life-sustaining love.

Photo by Edward Cisneros on upslash.com

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